Whether it is on the dining table or the national budget, pork is bad and unhealthy. In the body, it clogs the coronary
arteries with cholesterol and leads to heart attacks. In the national budget, it fills up the pockets of congressmen with
illicit money that belongs to the taxpayers. Even before he assumes the presidency, the pork barrel is already a problem with
Noynoy Aquino. It is the age-old problem of thieves fighting over loot.
This is the problem: Noynoy won on a promise of change. People hearkened to his promise that he would eradicate corruption.
“Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap” (If there are no corrupt people, there would be no poor people) is his slogan.
And since most Filipinos are mired in poverty from which they are trying to get out, the people believe that at last here
is a messiah who is going to deliver them from poverty.
“Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap.” Sounds like Erap’s “Si Erap para sa mahirap,” but
Noynoy’s slogan gives the people an idea of what causes their poverty: corruption. And what is more corrupt than the
The pork barrel is the appropriation in the national budget disguised as Countrywide Development Fund and Priority Development
Assistance, but are actually a bribe to legislators. The fund is used for projects of congressmen and senators such as roads
and bridges, schoolhouses, puericulture centers, basketball courts, waiting sheds, etc. Each senator gets P250 million a year
and each congressman P70 million a year in pork barrel. There are at least 250 congressmen, including party-list representatives,
and 24 senators. Do the arithmetic and you have an idea of how much of the people’s money is wasted on the pork barrel.
If all the billions and billions of pesos in pork barrel funds is used for public works projects year after year, the entire
Philippines would be crisscrossed by concrete highways and there would be no shortage of classrooms every time schools open,
as will happen two weeks from now.
But only a small portion of those pork-barrel funds actually goes to the projects. The rest goes into the pockets of members
of Congress, public works engineers, private contractors, auditors, cashiers, clerks, etc. The pork contaminates everybody’s
hands with unhealthy fat.
For decades, the people have clamored for the abolition of the pork barrel. It is one of the main causes of corruption
and waste of the people’s money. Even before I became a journalist, the press was already fighting the pork barrel,
but like cigarette smoking, it is very difficult to give up.
Now comes Noynoy Aquino promising heaven for the believers and hell for the sinners. Like a thoroughbred, he comes with
a pedigree. His father is a national hero; had he not been assassinated, he would have become president. His mother became
the president instead, and she was so loved by the people they would have made her a saint had they the power to do so.
That’s what made people believe in Noynoy. All candidates promise heaven and earth to the voters but Noynoy is different:
he comes from good stock. He is the son of Ninoy and Cory, like Superman is the son of Jor El. How can he go wrong?
Now comes his first test: the pork barrel. What will he do with it?
He can abolish it and, in so doing, abolish most corruption and save trillions of pesos that otherwise would be stolen.
Imagine what those trillions can do towards the abolition of poverty: a home for every squatter, schools for all students,
hospitals for the sick, roads and bridges, financial assistance to the farmers and fishermen, jobs for the jobless. In other
words, Heaven with a capital H.
But how will President Noynoy entice senators and congressmen to join his coalition, elect his chosen speaker and Senate
president if he doesn’t have the pork barrel with which to bribe them? How can he make them go to Malacaņang where he
can ask them to do this do and that if he doesn’t have shopping bags filled with money like President Macapagal-Arroyo
used to do. This is the surest way for the president to control members of Congress. He either bribes cooperative ones with
pork or punishes uncooperative ones by freezing the release of their pork. It is like beating the feeding trough to make the
pigs believe that food is coming and then not putting any slop there. The squeals of the hungry hogs are painful to the ears,
and that is what we will hear from members of Congress if the president does not release their pork allocations.
But already Arroyo is getting ready to fight Noynoy for control of the pork barrel. She warned the incoming president that
there is a provision in the P1.54 trillion 2010 national budget that prohibits the president from impounding pork barrel funds
without the approval of Congress. For the first time, control of the pork will be in the hands of the speaker, and that is
the position that Arroyo may run for next. (She said she is not running for speaker, but do you believe her?)
And it turns out that Noynoy himself had filed a bill in the Senate that prohibits the president from withholding the release
of budget allocations. In short, President Noynoy cannot use the pork as a carrot to attract members of Congress to elect
his chosen Senate president and speaker, and pass his legislative agenda. What a quandary Noynoy has boxed himself in.
So I don’t expect President Noynoy to get anywhere in the anti-corruption drive, at least in the first year. Many
people would be disappointed. The poor would still watch helplessly as the corrupt run laughing all the way to the banks abroad.